Sunday, 24 February 2019

Chris Leslie and Elitist Politics

In her Newsnight interview with Kirsty Wark, Anna Soubry batted away questions about the politics of the newly-minted Independent Group by saying this was "something new". As this could not pertain to the tired return of warmed over Blairism (with a full-throated shout out for George Osborne, in Soubz's case), it must be something specific to TIG itself. Plenty of people have noted this is not a political party but a corporate entity owned by Gemini A, a company owned by TInG nobody and anti-gay bigot, Gavin Shuker. Normally it's the height of Commons manners to be discreet about one's relationship to a private company, so I suppose that's new.

Another innovation came in George Eaton's interview with Chris Leslie. Amid the guff and nonsense, none of which we haven't seen before, this wee gem was put forward in response to being quizzed on party leadership: "Everybody has genuflected to membership, but that membership is a tiny fraction of the public at large ... MPs have to, by the nature of our constitution, have confidence in their leader." Therefore MPs should have the final say on who gets to be the leader of their party. Can you imagine his envy when Andrea Leadsom withdrew her ill-fated 2016 leadership bid when it became clear Theresa May had the backing of most Conservative MPs? It's not entirely surprising then how ordinary people cannot join Leslie's outfit - though their money is good enough.

But I want to focus a little on Leslie himself. The notion that social being conditions consciousness should be a banal truism when it comes to the analysis of politics, but it's not. And this is for good reasons where mainstream commentary is concerned. Rather than parties being the means by which interests are articulated and represented, they are free-floating coalitions of ideas. MPs sat in Westminster with their salaries, status and a cushion of office bods who do the donkey work for them can subscribe to this fiction, this illusio (as Bourdieu put it) of the political field because most of them are from similar backgrounds, have a similar outlook, the same salaries, conditions of work, respect for parliamentary conventions, and so on. For them, this is politics. The constituency association or party, having to deal with beastly members' meetings, committing to local council election efforts, that's not proper politics: it's a distraction.

Leslie's contempt for members' participation in the affairs of their party makes sense in this context. But additionally, he's something of a special case. Like his equally useless compadre, Mike Gapes, the Labour Party has provided him a good living virtually all his adult life. Fresh from his Masters degree at Leeds University he moved into a political research job in 1996 before getting selected for Shipley in 1997 at the tender age of 24. There he was a loyal MP and something of a Gordon Brown protege until getting dumped out of office at the 2005 general election by noted Tory misogynist Philip Davies. He was then gifted the directorship of the New Local Government Network following his defenestration, and headed Brown's leadership campaign from behind the scenes. He was then selected to fight Nottingham East in 2010 and has sat in Parliament ever since.

It's worth focusing in on that Nottingham East selection. Long-term readers might remember shortly after joining Labour in February 2010, the seat in which I live, Stoke Central, was subjected to a stitch-up. The NEC (in reality, the then regional director) drew up a shortlist comprised of Tristram Hunt and two no-hopers and trusted the local membership to select the right candidate. Alas, local party members in Nottingham East weren't even afforded that luxury. The then sitting MP, John Heppell, resigned late before the general election and so the selection of a replacement came under the purview of the NEC's Special Selection Panel. A long list was drawn up and was put to the five-person panel and, what do you know, Leslie was awarded the seat for services rendered. To understand why Nottingham East no confidenced him and have loudly complained about his neglect of the constituency, the circumstances of his imposition on the CLP is the necessary context to take into consideration. For a large chunk of the membership, the legitimacy of his claim to the seat has always been suspect and contested.

Leslie then epitomises the trends Peter Mair wrote about in Ruling the Void, of a party elite distant from and indifferent to what's happening in the real world. And we can see why. For most of Leslie's political career, elites at the top of parties have used bureaucracy, dirty tricks and all manner of manipulation to keep themselves in place and insulated from outside pressures. For the likes of Leslie, ordinary people getting involved in politics, having a say, expecting politicians to answer their questions and, ultimately, being accountable to them is as much an aberration as it is an abomination. This is politics as less an elite and more an elitist activity, one they shouldn't be ashamed of, and why it is no accident The Independent Group was set up as project for MPs only. Not that this should unduly worry anyone. As they will find out soon enough, if they can't be bothered to orient themselves to a mass constituency outside of Westminster, then people outside of their bubble, even those who might be favourably disposed to them, aren't going to be bothered with them either.

7 comments:

Boffy said...

""Everybody has genuflected to membership, but that membership is a tiny fraction of the public at large ... MPs have to, by the nature of our constitution, have confidence in their leader." Therefore MPs should have the final say on who gets to be the leader of their party."

Its a paraphrase of what Tom Watson said on Marr this morning, and shows that Watson is the Prince across the water - not David Miliband as some would have it - admitting that he is preparing to establish a party within the PLP in opposition to Corbyn, that will, probably only after, not before the upcoming General ELection, install him as parliamentary Leader, by-passing Corbyn, and potentially then allowing Hopium's 11, 12 or 13 whatever it is by then to caucus with them.

It shows how stupid was the policy of Corbyn and Momentum of not insisting on further democratic reforms - Corbyn for his own reasons, we see obviously now of ignoring 90% of party members in relation to his idiotic pro-Brexit stance - and the deselection of MP's after they tried to oust Corbyn in 2016. It shows how stupid has been the policy of trying to appease them, which now means that when in a couple of weeks time, May calls the General Election, probably to coincide with local government elections, Labour will be shackled with all these right-wing MP's as candidates, and with no time to deselect and establish decent candidates in their place.

Dipper said...

hahahaha. Yes. Stuck between the vain and the useless.

Most of the Labour politicians I like are women. They seem to have personality, courage, respect their constituents and speak up for them. Needless to say Momentum and other nutters rubbish them continually.

Dipper said...

"when in a couple of weeks time, May calls the General Election"

yep. That's what Tories like me are thinking. Except not under May Please Please Please. Get someone who is an optimist, has a visions of an international UK, and can unite the party. Happy Days!

Speedy said...

When has national politics not been an elite business?

Only local politics, where representatives have to deal with - and face - their electorate in the high street is arguably non-elite as they have to confront the consequences of their actions. Unpicking "elite" surely you mean "accountable".

How is the Labour Party membership less elite than the Conservative? The numbers are not dissimilar (at least before the five bob membership) and neither, I suspect, is their economic profile.

How are you and this discussion not "elite"?

All fractions - self-appointed elites - of the population trying to influence the political process in their favour. Yes, there are the unions, but how much do they reflect the views of their members rather than being a tool for motivated individuals to claim their own share of elite power? Accountability is diluted into irrelevance.

TIG has simply taken this process to its inevitable conclusion. While FPTP exists it will always be thus (and without it, too).

A good example, incidentally, is Corbyn's disregard for the clear wishes of his (elite) membership. You want to see how elites act, look no further.

Johny Conspiranoid. said...

Are these people still in the Labour Party? If not are the CLPs busy selecting a new candidate? If they resign just before the coming snap general election, will that put the candidate selection in the hands of the NEC's Special Selection Panel? Are people on that panel anti-Corbyn?
They probably know there going vanish at the next election but six-figure jobs are already lined up, so its a disruption tactic.
This is a conspiracy theory by the way.

Pleb James said...

Speedy - the Labour Party has 520,000 fully paid up members (i.e. not including the ones that paid £3), whilst the Tory party has 124,000.

I notice that Tom Watson is setting up a group within the Labour party because he thinks they need to stick up for the 'social democratic' wing of the party.

What is social democracy if not things like:
- comparatively high and very progressive taxation to fund decent public services
- national ownership of natural monopolies
- free higher education for all as a right
?
What he really means is the right-wing, neoliberal of the party of which the majority of the PLP are in.

Boffy said...

James,

None of the things you listed are necessarily social-democratic. They may or may not be, depending on the conditions. The basic characteristic of social-democracy is that it facilitates the accumulation of capital, particularly of large-scale, socialised industrial capital (productive and commercial capital). It sees that accumulation as the basis of creating the best conditions for the employment of labour, and thereby of raising workers wages and living standards, but as Marx says in his critique of Ricardo, upon whose economic ideas, social-democracy is based, it can only see wages rising to the extent that it does not threaten the capital accumulation, which, under capitalism, is the basis of that employment of additional labour, and rising living standards.

The basic philosophy of social-democracy, therefore, is that the interests of capital and labour converge, and are reconcilable by negotiation and management, but primary is the accumulation of capital, without which there can be no increase in living standards. Essentially, social-democracy is an ideology of the middle class, of the professional managers on one side, responsible for ensuring that accumulation of capital, and middle class TU bureaucrats on the other, who sit across the table from them to negotiate wages and conditions within the confines of what the wages system can permit, whilst enabling capital accumulation. AS Marx defines it,

"“The peculiar character of social-democracy is epitomized in the fact that democratic-republican institutions are demanded as a means, not of doing away with two extremes, capital and wage labour, but of weakening their antagonism and transforming it into harmony. However different the means proposed for the attainment of this end may be, however much it may be trimmed with more or less revolutionary notions, the content remains the same. This content is the transformation of society in a democratic way, but a transformation within the bounds of the petty bourgeoisie. Only one must not get the narrow-minded notion that the petty bourgeoisie, on principle, wishes to enforce an egoistic class interest. Rather, it believes that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions within whose frame alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided. Just as little must one imagine that the democratic representatives are indeed all shopkeepers or enthusiastic champions of shopkeepers. According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven and earth. What makes them representatives of the petty bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which material interest and social position drive the latter practically. This is, in general, the relationship between the political and literary representatives of a class and the class they represent.”